Fenelon Falls United Church
March 3, 2022
Fenelon Falls United Church and Manse in the 1930s
Originally the Methodist Congregations
During the first generation in Fenelon Falls, the Wesleyan Methodist Church was the second most popular local religious institution (the Church of England/Anglican being the largest), but was somewhat controversial. While the Anglicans tended to be strongly associated with the official (religious) establishment, early Methodists relied on saddlebag preachers. The Anglican Bishop of Toronto, John Strachan (a key figure in the colonial political establishment) called them ‘uneducated itinerant preachers… without any preparation to teach what they do now know, and which… they disdain to learn.” Many Methodists supported the reforms that made Canada into more of a democracy, including the disestablishment of Strachan’s state church.
These colony-wide debates were reflected in Fenelon Falls. The Anglicans, of course, owned the village and formed the early political elite, and were eligible to receive a grant to build the community’s first church. The Methodists did not have the same official backing, but constructed two strong local churches—the Wesleyan Methodists and the Bible Christians, which later merged in 1884.
The Methodists preached sobriety and hard work. The movement’s founder, John Wesley rose every day at 4 AM, and wrote of late risers, “by soaking… so long between warm sheets, the flesh, is as it were parboiled, and becomes soft and flabby.” At one district mission brought to life the ideal, regimented workday. It went off at 5 AM in winter and 4 AM in summer summoning all to rise. At 7:30 in winter or 6:30 in summer, a bell indicated that it was time for breakfast. Bells at 12:30 and 5 PM marked the other two meals. A horn sounded at 9 PM to prepare for rest. The Methodists were strong advocates of temperance and prohibition, and instrumental in making Fenelon Falls into a dry town.
The first Methodist Church (1861) was wooden and was humorously called the fireproof church—the congregation unwittingly heated the church using a stovepipe that was six feet from meeting the chimney in the attic—miraculously the building did not burn down. In 1876 a brick church was built on the same site. In 1911 the present church was built. The foundation was dug with horses and scrapers, assisted by pick and shovel. The farmers from the congregation held bees, and brought in their horses and wagons to haul away the fill. Tena (Bedford) Brandon recalled helping to prepare the dinners at the parsonage for all the workers at the bees. On a wet and muddy day in November, the third Methodist church was opened and dedicated.
In 1925 the Methodists agreed to merge with some of the Presbyterians (and the Congregationalists, which was more significant elsewhere) to form the United Church of Canada. While the Congregationalists and Methodists agreed at the national level to merge, the Presbyterians left it up to each individual congregation. St. Andrew’s voted to remain Presbyterian, but after “much prayer and heart-rending,” 33 members walked up Colborne Street to join the United Church.
For more memories of Fenelon Falls United Church check out their centennial history: